Dino Babers Q&A: Bowling Green’s new coach on Art Briles, building a program, more
SI.com caught up with new Bowling Green coach Dino Babers on Thursday night. Babers, formerly of Eastern Illinois, replaces Dave Clawson, who left for Wake Forest. He discussed his mentors during a 30-year coaching career, sustaining Bowling Green’s success after this season’s MAC title and more.
SI: Why was Bowling Green the right place?
Dino Babers: Any time you talk about Bowling Green, you talk about a school with that kind of academic standing in the state of Ohio, which is a rich bed for high school football athletes. Three or four states have the best of them, and obviously Ohio is one of them. To have that kind of riches in your backyard and be able to recruit locally is a chance for a program to have success immediately. Obviously, these guys can have sustained success. They’ve had success over the years. We’re just looking forward to seeing if we can continue their championship traditions that they’ve started here.
SI: I know you have to take time to see the personnel, but you have to be excited about having Matt Johnson (who threw for more than 3,000 yards as a sophomore this season) at quarterback.
DB: There’s no doubt. Any time you go into a program and have a quarterback that’s had success, and he still has two years to play, that’s something that definitely puts a smile on my face.
SI: What can you take away from coaching Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois that you can bring to coaching quarterbacks at Bowling Green?
DB: I think the biggest thing is what happens from year one to year two in our offense. Year one, I believe Jimmy ended up like seventh in the nation [in FCS] throwing the ball. Once he went into the second year, and he didn’t have to think about it and he just had to act, that’s when you could really see what he could do in this offense. He ended up number one in the country and a Walter Payton Award winner.
SI: Which of the coaches you’ve worked with have had the most impact on you?
DB: There are some coaches who have had major impacts. Art Briles is the first one. The next one is Homer Smith, a long-time assistant who died of cancer three years ago. He was the offensive coordinator at UCLA and out at Alabama. A Hall of Fame coordinator. The next two guys that made the biggest impact on my life were June Jones, who was running the run and shoot when I was in college. Just to see what an innovative offense could do to a community, how he re-energized our fan base and made them kind of rabid.
After that, you’d have to go back to Mike Martz. I was a [graduate assistant] for him when he was at Arizona State, and we all know that Mike never saw a pass he didn’t like. Being around those guys and knowing how throwing the ball can give you a chance to win when you’re playing an opponent who maybe has a couple more apples than you do, really made a good impression on me.
SI: Have you modeled your program at Eastern Illinois and now moving into Bowling Green after what Briles has been able to do at Baylor (where Babers was an assistant), or are you taking a grab bag of other experiences that you’ve had?
DB: No, this is an Art Briles copy.
SI: Do you and Art still communicate on a regular basis?
DB: Oh yes, we talk. Most definitely.
SI: I’m curious about whether you still stay in contact with some of those former players you’ve coached over the years.
DB: All those guys still stay in contact with me. Not only did they play for me, but they’re great friends and they’re turning into great young men. Josh Gordon, RGIII, Brandon Miree, all those guys, you stay in contact with them because they’re good people. Terrance Williams with the Dallas Cowboys, Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans. You stay in contact because they’re still growing up. They’re still on our docket. They’re still in the classroom. They’re not grown yet, but they’re all fine young men.
SI: Could you have envisioned the type of success you were able to have so quickly at Eastern Illinois (where he took over a program that had gone 2-9 in 2011)?
DB: I just think it was a blessing. You swing it around and go from worst to first, then have another big year where you beat an FBS school and you almost beat another FBS school. (Note: Eastern Illinois lost 43-39 to Northern Illinois on Sept. 21). I think God decided he wanted to touch our university and our football team. We had some good players, but that team really bought into each other and cared for each other and that had a lot to do with the success we had on the field.
SI: That win over San Diego State sticks out. That proved you guys not only had a good system in place, but you had good talent. How important is recruiting to you?
DB: Recruiting is everything. You need to have good, good players if you’re going to have good, good seasons. It’s not something you can be lazy about. You have to shave every day so you don’t look like a bum. You need to recruit every day so you don’t look like a bum. Recruiting is something you have to do every day. It’s like eating. It’s extremely important.
SI: Do you have a philosophy when it comes to leadership?
DB: I think most kids want discipline. They just don’t want to know you’re giving it to them. It’s kind of like a shot. They need the shot, but if you get them to look the other way and poke them it’s not as bad. I try to instill discipline in them another way. Every young man wants discipline. It comes to leadership at the top. If you can be consistently good, not occasionally great, someone you can wind the clock by day in and day out, they can count on you. When you’re that consistent and they know how you’re going to respond, they have a tendency to give you the response that you want. Those are things I try to base my interactions with those young people on.
SI: What’s a quick elevator pitch for why Bowling Green is a place kids are going to want to go now?
DB: I’ll just look at the last season we [Eastern Illinois] just came out of. Our starting tailback had 1,500 yards. Our backup tailback was  yards away from 1,000. We had two wide receivers over 1,000 yards and we had a third wide receiver at  yards, just short of a thousand. When you see those numbers in an offense, there’s a lot of room for a lot of guys to touch the football. Because of that, they can be at our place, be third-best and still roll up some nice numbers.
SI: What going to be your approach defensively?
DB: We want to be aggressive on defense. We want to punch the offense in the mouth. We want to control the line of scrimmage. We want to get ahead in the pitch count, and then we want to squeeze you out on third down so we can get the ball back. If we can’t get the ball on the three-and-out, we’ll get the ball on turnovers. Turnovers and three-and-outs is what we’re trying to get on defense.
SI: Do you have a general idea of who’s going to be on your staff?
DB: It’s going to come about in the days to come. It’s a puzzle. You have to make sure all the pieces fit. That’s something I’m working on, and it’s something I stopped working on to talk to you. After I talk to you, I’ll go back to working on that.